Mark Dechesne

Winner Dissertation Prize 2002

Flexible and Rigid Reactions to Reminders of Mortality. Some Further Explorations of Terror Management Theory

Supervisors: Prof. dr A.F.M. van Knippenberg, Prof. dr J.A.P.J. Janssen
Nomination: University of Nijmegen, Faculty of Social Sciences

Report by the selection committee

‘Death is a strong source of reflexion, fear and inspiration’. A great many philosophers, theologians and artists dedicated their life’s work to the fear of death. But the empirically orientated psychology has hardly profited from this fact. This thesis changes all this. The articles in the dissertation of Mark Dechesne describe a theoretical cadre and an empirical programme on the basis of which the influence of the unique human consciousness of mortality on our daily functioning is analysed in an experimental way. The dissertation gives a new understanding of ‘terror management theory’, a theory that indicates the consciousness of one’s own mortality as the fundamental principle in effecting social behaviour. Concepts from different social science traditions are used to offer new predictions on the effect of a recollection of death on social behaviour. Subsequently these predictions are tested in very creative experiments. The dissertation has a scientific as well as a social importance. The further development of terror management theory receives a great deal of interest internationally. Especially after 11 September 2001 are contributions like this of great importance as they add to the development of a psychological perspective on terrorism and fear.